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Shattered Illusions: Joe Paterno and the Penn State Child Molestation Tragedy

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I love football.  There are only two sports that I pay attention to; the first is motor sports the second is football. That’s why I feel so much disgust about what has happened at Penn State University and that’s why I felt like I had to write this.  Feel free to skip over this post, it’s written more for me to vent than anything else.  It is simply impossible to get past the fact that Joe Paterno not only enabled a serial child molester, he covered up for him.  To Paterno, the image of Penn State University and the Penn State football program were more important than the safety of children.  Is this the pedestal we’ve placed football on in America, that it has become more important than the safety and well being of  children?If so, it’s time to step back from the altar.  The illusion has been shattered and we’ve been slapped in the face with reality.  I don’t normally subscribe to the theory that one bad thing wipes out all of the good that a person does but in this case it does.  Joe Paterno may have have done a lot of good for his football players but he not only allowed Jerry Sandusky to prey on defenseless children, he gave him the tools to do it and looked the other way.

That professor was right, all those years ago. I was engaging in hagiography. So was that school. So was that town. It was dangerous. Turns out it builds monsters. – Rick Reilly, ESPN

Pro football and College football have done their best in recent years to give themselves black eyes and ruin the sport but one of the sport’s icons, a man who was supposed to represent all that was good and righteous about the game has  dealt the biggest blow.  After reading Rick Reilly’s recent ESPN commentary “Joe Paterno’s True Legacy,” I accepted that my illusions had been shattered.  Joe Paterno, the man we had been led to believe was a coach who did things right and cared about “the kids” was no different than anyone else. Indeed, he was worse than many he was held above as an example.

This throws a can of black paint on anything anybody tells me about Paterno from here on in. “No NCAA violations in all those years.” I believe it. He was great at hiding stuff. “He gave $4 million to the library.” In exchange for what? “He cared about kids away from the football field.” No, he didn’t. Not all of them. Not when it really mattered. – Rick Reilly, ESPN

Rick Reilly admits he helped build up that image of Joe Paterno, referring to himself in his commentary as an idiot, stooge, sap, chump, and ultimately as a tool.  Reilly and the rest of the sports media was fooled and used by Paterno and Penn State.  With the surfacing of the child molestation by Jerry Sandusky and Freeh Report commissioned by Penn State we now know that “the kids” didn’t matter to Joe Paterno.  What mattered was the reputation of Penn State and more importantly the Penn State football program.  One has to wonder if at the end of the day it was more about his reputation than the school’s or the team’s?  If Paterno hid something as heinous as child molestation, what else did he hide?  What kind of rules violations and cheating did Penn State get away with for all those years?

“Winning became more important,” she said, along with a strong desire “to avoid bad publicity.” So many people were invested in the football program, they felt they had “to protect something that they had created, a grand experiment that was so perfect that they didn’t dare let anybody know there were blemishes.”
– Vicky Triponey in a CNN interview

What’s worse is that we’ve placed college football on a pedestal, a pedestal higher than education.  We’ve forsaken education for football.  In pursuit of the money that a winning football program can bring to a school, we’ve made football the most important thing.  We’ve allowed ourselves to justify making football players the most important students on campus.  Not that many of them are really students, most of the scholarship holders are simply using college as a ladder to the NFL.  We’ve allowed ourselves to justify paying head coaches millions upon millions of dollars, more than any professor – the ones whose jobs are the most important on campus.  We’ve allowed the head coach to become the most important person on campus?

You don’t believe that we’ve allowed the head coach to become the most important person on campus?  What happened at Penn State?  The athletic director Tim Curley didn’t stand up to Paterno.  The Vice President Gary Schultz didn’t stand up to Paterno.  The President Graham Spanier didn’t stand up to Paterno.  Why?  Because if they stood up to Paterno, they wouldn’t have a job very long.  One administrator did attempt to stand up to Paterno, but what happened to her?  Read this CNN story about Vicky Triponey:  she was forced out because she didn’t “embrace the Penn State way.”  She was harassed by students and supporters of Penn State, she lost the support of her superiors, and ultimately resigned.  The alumni and supporters of Penn State worshiped Paterno and saw him as more important than anyone else.

The Penn State scandal is far beyond the scope and reach of the NCAA, and there is little value in NCAA sanctions handed down far after the state and federal authorities have prosecuted cases against the perpetrators of this evil and after victims and aggrieved parties have sued for damages in civil court. This is a matter best left to the judicial system, not the NCAA rulebook and its ill-equipped committee on infractions. – Jay Bilas, ESPN

Bull.  First, between Penn State and the NCAA Curley, Schultz, and Spanier should be gone and not allowed to hold positions of authority in any NCAA school.  It should be made plainly clear to all school administrators, athletic directors, and coaches that the worship of football and coaches is over.  Make a stand and begin down the path of making education a priority at schools, not football.  Make it clear that “the kids” – all of them – come before the reputation of a school and the football program.  Second, give the the Penn State football program the “death penalty.”  SMU got the death penalty for recruitment violations, what Paterno did was far worse than any recruitment violation.  The NCAA loves to penalize athletic programs for “lack of institutional control,” this entire episode is full of lack of institutional control.  The institute (Penn State) not only didn’t control Paterno, they let him run the institution!  Finally, remove Paterno’s statue from the campus and remove his name from campus buildings.  Allowing them to remain enables his legacy to be seen as a positive one.  Let the school history and record books be his legacy on campus.

Sadly, I don’t believe that the NCAA has the fortitude to do it.  They’ll cave to cash cow that college football has become and refuse to penalize a big time program and school to the fullest extent.  Football will remain on the pedestal and education will continue to be secondary to it.  It all makes me question whether or not I want to remain a fan.


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